Posted: 10:26 a.m. Thursday, March 28, 2013
By Juan Cantu
Since the NBA/ABA merger, Denver has yet to make the NBA Finals. That's 1976-2013 - a 37 year drought. Denver have made it to the Western Conference Finals a few times with the most recent being the 2008-09 run that ended against the Lakers (who were in their first run of back-to-back championships).
Carmelo Anthony arrived in Denver a part of the famed 2003 class that has spawned All-Stars and future Hall of Famers such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, David West, Mo Williams, and solid role players (like Kyle Korver, Matt Bonner, Zaza Pachulia, Luke Walton, Josh Howard, Leandro Barbosa, Carlos Delfino, Boris Diaw, Nick Collison, Luke Ridnour, and Kirk Hinrich). Nearly all of the non-All Star players hold at least a key bench role for playoff teams and the All-Stars are the best known basketball players alive. The Nuggets lucked out with the third pick in a stacked draft and Carmelo Anthony became an NBA stud right away. Carmelo won every single Conference Rookie of the Month award, joining HoFers like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and LeBron James as the only players to ever do so. Carmelo led the Nuggets to their first playoffs appearance after an eight-year drought, starting every game that season and averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds, and roughly 3 assists per game. Unfortunately for Denver fans, the Nuggets faced Kevin Garnett in his MVP year (24ppg, 14rpg, 5apg, 2bpg) and his Timberwolves, who ousted Denver in 5 games. Denver would make the playoffs every single season after that (including this season) but never past the first round until 2008-09, when they made it all the way to the Conference Finals, eventually falling to the Lakers for the second straight postseason. The Nuggets lost their next three forays into the playoffs in the first round, leading to most fans and analysts to claim that Denver needed something more to go deep into May and June. Carmelo no longer wanted to be a part of the Nuggets' frustrations and forced a trade to the Knicks in 2011. Denver gained what was then deemed "scrap" pieces in Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler,and Kosta Koufos. The Nuggets also waved goodbye to Nenê as they traded the Brazilian to the Wizards for JaVale McGee. The Nuggets also added the talent of Ty Lawson and veterans Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala. In a few transactions, the Nuggets became much younger and suddenly a much different team but one that is a serious threat in the Western Conference. The mile-high gunners are now a fast paced squad that doesn't even take the time to set up plays (Coach Karl prefers his players to read and react). This team is talented. This team is deep. And this team is dangerous.
The Denver Nuggets had the third longest winning streak this season at 15 games straight, behind only the Clippers run of 17 earlier this season and the Heat's now dead streak of 27. The Nuggets streak came to end courtesy of the Hornets and backup point guard Brian Roberts' 18 assists. Nevertheless, these Nuggets are quickly climbing the Western Conference seeding ladder, currently sitting in the third spot. Denver took the season series from Oklahoma City and Memphis, winning both 3-1, and have a lead on the Clippers (2-1). The Nuggets are currently tied with the Spurs at 1 game apiece in the 4 game series. Even though Tim Duncan had one of the best games this season (31 Points, 18 Rebounds, 6 Assists, 2 Steals, 5 blocks), Denver defeated San Antonio when the Spurs visited the Pepsi Center in December. Winning against the Spurs would give Denver the tiebreaker over every possible playoff team in the West. The Nuggets have a high power offense but lack a reliable defense, reminding me of the Spurs these past couple of years (but way more athletic). Denver runs fast, they pass the ball, they shoot the three and attack the rim. They rank 3rd in the league in points per game, 3rd in assists, 2nd in steals per game, 2nd in rebounds, and 3rd in blocks. BUT the Nuggets are 24th in points allowed due to their fast pace and, at times, lack of discipline. Nonetheless, they have nine players who average at least 8 points per game, and six who average nearly more than 12. They lead the league in points in the paint, due to their active big men (Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee) and their bench's reliance on small ball, using Wilson Chandler at the 4 and McGee as a high-jumping center, posing problems for any defender. Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson each average 16 points a game and are the go-to scorers that late-game finishes rely on. But ever since Carmelo left town a few years ago, they haven't had a true reliable finisher.
"You know what I'm going to say. So write it that way. 'George, you can...' Yeah."
-Coach Pop on Coach George Karl's comments on how unfair it is that the Spurs have become a top five team in free throw percentage.
Check out Matthew Tynan's recap for more on last night's game.
The Nuggets starting five wasn't that effective against the Spurs but their bench stepped up, scoring 59 points. JaVale McGee scored 21, Wilson Chandler had 15, and Andre Miller had 14. The Spurs only had 18 points from their reserves, as the other 82 came from their starters. This was helped by their 27 free throw attempts and the eight threes between Danny Green (6), Tony Parker (1), and Kawhi Leonard (1). Denver's bench took control of the game whenever they played against the Spurs reserves, winning the plus/minus differential with double digits on the positive side. They also thoroughly out-rebounded the Spurs' bench, 24 to 4. JaVale McGee had three great blocks, rising up higher than human beings are supposed to go. JaVale had a relatively better game than Timmy Duncan, as he played 26 minutes to Duncan's 36 and still recorded 21 points (10-11 FG), 11 rebounds, a couple steals, and the aforementioned 3 blocks.
This game was back and forth, with the Nuggets owning the second and fourth quarters, but ultimately fell too far behind in the third to be able to come back all the way. Down a single point with 11 seconds left, the Nuggets tried to go to Danilo Gallinari but the Spurs shut him down, forcing the ball handler, Andre Miller, to drive to the hoop and force up a shot. Miller's shot nearly went in but the Spurs survived this time around. Miller e put up 18 shots in total, playing 28 minutes in place of a semi-injured Ty Lawson. The most telling statistic is 3PT field goals: the Nuggets missed all ten of their attempts, while the Spurs made 10 of 15. In a one point win, those three point plays meant the game to the Spurs.
Timmy once again had a great game, even against the very active JaVale McGee. Timmy was a calming force on the Spurs every time the Nuggets got close in the second half, and impacted the game on both ends of the court. Even though he missed the Spurs last shot in the game, San Antonio and their defensive anchor pulled this game out.
Ty Lawson was invisible this game and didn't have much of an effect other than his few assists and a couple of steals. He played under 20 minutes, likely due to his heel injury, which also likely affected his game. No other Nugget played poorly, so Lawson ends up with this award.
…keep winning. It won't be easy, as they face the Clippers on Friday and then the Heat on Easter Sunday, which has a lot less potential as a national game now that the Heat's streak is broken. If both teams play at full strength, it'll be a good measuring stick game. Will the Spurs ace their final exam or need to go to remedial classes with Pop in the film room?